Five years on: Stakeholders weigh in on Jamaica’s ganja industry
‘Ganja’, ‘cannabis’, ‘marijuana’, ‘weed’ and ‘herb’ are some of the names for the popularly known plant that has brought international notoriety to Jamaica. Five years after decriminalising the possession of small amounts of ganja, local stakeholders examine the progress made with the establishment of an endemic cannabis industry.
For Verald Vassell, popularly known as ‘Iyah V,’ the benefits of this move have not trickled down to small farmers as much as initially hoped. He lamented that despite the push to incorporate traditional farmers under a pilot programme spearheaded by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF), initial attempts have not been successful.
“From an Orange Hill point of view, the Government had promised us some land but to this day we haven’t gotten it. I don’t know what exactly is going on,” he said.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, state minister in MICAF, Honourable Floyd Green, responded to these concerns as he explained that, “We had challenges in Orange Hill in relation to identifying appropriate plots of land that can be used for cultivation. However, we continue to work with the community group to get through those challenges. We have not shelved the Orange Hill programme.”
He added, “The ministry is also contemplating using government land for some of our small traditional farmers to plant cannabis. Again the ministry does have, through its agro-parks programme, land earmarked for certain types of production so it is looking as if we can utilise some of the government-owned land to facilitate the planting of cannabis.”
STOP GANJA DESTRUCTION
However, this only represents a part of Iyah V’s disappointment. With a heavy sigh, he explained that efforts by the security forces have also hampered the livelihood for some farmers.
“These farmers want the Government to cease from cutting down their products because over the years this is what these people have lived off. This is what has sent their children to school, put bread on the table. The Government has acknowledged that a transition period is needed. But in the meantime, if you destroy these people’s crops, how do they eat?” said Iyah V.
Additionally, he explained that limitations from the policy standpoint have also impacted the level of support the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) can provide to farmers.
He expounds, “There are things that need to be done at a ministerial level. This is because the CLA has to function in accordance with what is required by the ministry. So it needs certain decisions to be taken at Cabinet level to enable the CLA to go out there in the field and to relate and help grassroots people.”
This stance has also been echoed by Dr Ellen Campbell Grizzle, associate professor of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Technology.
“A big problem is how to get our indigenous people to make a headway into the industry. Many of them are just outside watching the game and they are not playing; they don’t have the resources. We need to make the business of cannabis more accessible to the people who paid the price. Many of them went to prison and all of that. Yet, the thing is decriminalised and they can’t seem to get a foothold into it,” she opined.
In this regard, Campbell Grizzle is calling for greater attention from other state entities such as RADA, which currently does not have the legislative authority to provide assistance.
Cannabis industry leader, Dr Henry Lowe, also agreed that more resources should be allocated in order to maximise the value-added potential of the sector.
He highlighted that, “There has been too much focus on growing and exporting ganja. The future of the cannabis industry in Jamaica is to make secondary and tertiary products. There is tremendous opportunity there.”
For Dr Lowe, greater attention must be placed on producing cosmetic, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products.
This is especially true, given the dark storm clouds circling the global economy and the emergence of Caribbean rivals seeking to capitalise on the medicinal cannabis industry.
In response to efforts made by other Caribbean countries, like St Vincent, to establish their own local marijuana industries, Minister Green explained that, “Our competitive advantage will come from the quality of the ganja that we grow, so we have to continue to focus on quality and using research to enhance our products, so I am not worried.”